Season of the Brich

They're broke and rich—and living large on someone else's dime

The Season of the Brich

TOPPING ROSE HOUSE MAY BE A FAIRLY NEW HAMPTONS ENTRY, BUT THE RESTAURANT HAS the patina of an authentic old-money Hamptons manse, despite the presence of two over-the-top and raucous reality stars. Each was applying lipstick and viewing the result in the reflection of her knife…après the main course. What could be next? Flossing after the dessert course in full view?

The scene was the perfect setting for an intimate conversation between friends, not about relationships or sexual peccadillos but about something much, much more titillating:

Money woes.

********************

My friend Sidney from Sydney and I were relaxing at a prime outdoor table as Dana and his South American paramour, Cha Cha, made the routine pilgrimage together to the powder room—one of the last gender-specific social activities—when he revealed his plight over the parmesan-crusted chicken and grilled lamb chops with Aleppo pepper.

“I make $10 million a year, and I’m broke,” he sighed, his accent adding to the dramatic revelation.

“So fill me in on this scenario.” I raised an eyebrow at the seemingly implausible problem.

“O.K., let’s play the numbers game. I made $10 million last year. Now that I am a U.S. citizen, almost 50 percent goes to taxes,” he harrumphed.

“Got that? Then I got divorced and half of everything went to the ex. That left me with $2.5 million. I just bought a new apartment with Cha Cha and had to put down $1.5 million.

“Then if you subtract alimony, private schools, camps, vacations, doctors, therapists, clothes, credit card bills, tutors and buying a couch, I have exactly $1.99 left over.”

“So you make $10 million a year and have no assets?”

“Maybe $25,000 in the bank.” He downed the 1942 Don Julio on the rocks.

“I find that hard to believe,” I countered. “What about [a serious family asset back in Sydney]?

“Locked up in trust!” He sighed. “I’ll be rolling in it when I can no longer have sex without pills,” he lamented.

“I still don’t believe it.” I shook my head.

“You will believe it in five minutes since you’ll be paying for dinner!” he said, gingerly handing me the check for dinner with the seriousness of an accountant at tax season.

************************

It goes without saying that there is a new class of the rich with, how shall we say, cash-flow issues. I call them “the brich” (broke and rich), and while no one is throwing them a charity dinner, when you spend any time at all with the brich, these worries often bubble to the surface, either in conversation or action. Whether plagued by taxes, overspending, multiple spouses and marriages or freewheeling children, there is a sense of disbelief and low-level frustration at their situation. The brich join a whopping 69 percent of Americans who have less than $1,000 in savings or the 34 percent who have no savings at all. They may flaunt their designer bags or Château Haut-Brion, but in reality they stay afloat on borrowed fumes—multiple credit card advances, the kindness of friends, and the like—until the day, they fear, that it is all pulled out from under them.

There is a new class of the rich with, how shall we say, cash-flow issues. While no one is throwing them a charity dinner, when you spend any time at all with the broke and rich, these worries often bubble to the surface, either in conversation or action.

When strapped for real cash, some resort to selling assets—jewelry, paintings, main or secondary domiciles or Hampton homes—to support their brich lifestyle. That said, they can’t seem to contain themselves, their spouses or their turbocharged and entitled progeny from shopping themselves into debt. They seem resigned to their fate. Their out-of-control spending may eventually put them and their families in the poorhouse, but they must have solace knowing they’ll be looking good wearing designer brands doing it!

********************

“ I think there are a number of factors about the new class of R&B,” mused dashing Palm Beach Heir-ry. He was admiring his visage in a wall mirror, his periwinkle eyes sporting un-Botoxed and manly creases in the corners.

“R&B?”

“Rich and broke.”

We were chatting over perfectly chilled martinis in the burnished bar of a private club that doesn’t approve of press mentions.

“I think the financial quagmire has a great deal to do with what I call the ‘how many’ rule.” He leaned in, revealing frayed French cuffs and his enameled red, white and blue links.

The agony of the "friendship budget.”

The agony of the “friendship budget.” Illustration by Paul Kisselev

 

“I don’t think I have ever heard of it,” I said.

He downed his martini in a muscular gulp. Heir-ry is the type of polo-playing Palm Beach chap who does everything effortlessly and can carry off a cardigan and vintage Lily shorts with élan and looks like he’s always ready to catch the wave, even in a suit. “It’s how many times you have been divorced…and how many brothers and sisters you have to share in the estate. And how many stepmothers and stepsiblings there are in the picture. It totally affects one’s life.”

He speared his submerged, drowned olive like a big game hunter. “Let’s take two scenarios. Let’s say you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth and your father leaves $100 million when he goes to…the tap room in the sky. If there is only one of you, you’re still rich after the estate taxes. However, if Pappy had four children and you’ve been counting on your inheritance, that only leaves $25 million per kid and $13 or $14 mil after taxes.”

“That’s still nice,” I said.

‘It’s how many times you have been divorced…and how many brothers and sisters you have to share in the estate. And how many stepmothers and stepsiblings there are in the picture. It totally affects one’s life.’        —Palm Beach Heir-y

“Not if you yourself get divorced one or two times and have three to five children yourself. Do you know how much private school and/or rehab is? At least one of my kids is guaranteed to go to [pricey Malibu center] with my family history.

“Then your ex gets $6 mil and you get $6 mil, or you only have $3 million left since you have been married twice. Not exactly the grand aristo life Pappy lived.”

“I guess you’re right,” I commiserated.

“That’s what happened to me,” Heir-ry added. “I thought I married a dumb blonde, but she was smart enough to hire the best lawyers and now I have exactly one-third of my one-quarter inheritance. All the wives band together, you know, once you announce your divorce and share resources. It’s a vengeful cabal,” he said bitterly.

“And how does the ‘how many’ rule affect your life now?”

“I’m a ‘how many’ rule victim,” he quipped, “and I have to adjust accordingly. When someone says they want to introduce me to an eligible young woman I apply the ‘HMR’ mathematical equation. Last week, as an example, I was given the name of two young ladies who live in Palm Beach. Both are in their 30s and come from very prestigious backgrounds.”

“And?” I didn’t know where Heir-ry was taking this.

“Ten years ago I would have called the more beautiful one first without giving it a second thought,” he revealed. “But I am going to call the less attractive one first, because she is…an only child. Get it?” He raised an eyebrow.

“It sounds like something out of an Edith Wharton novel.”

“Exactly! The Age of Innocence is on my nightstand,” he agreed. “I identify with the Newland Archer character and read it to convince myself…”

“Of what?”

“That we all can’t have Countess Olenska,” he paused for dramatic effect, “when one needs to refill the coffers.”

********************

Having friends in this city costs real money, unless you are, to use your term, a paid friend,” observed PR Penny. The two of us sat for breakfast outside Maison Kayser; Penny does freelance event planning for some of my clients when she is not busy being a chic Tribeca wife.

“Or unless you’re known as the best friend/poor relation who just goes along for the ride,” she continued. “Every super-rich couple has one or two of those.” She dug into her 2012 and somewhat suspiciously dinged YSL.

“I know. It’s very Downton Abbey with the poor relation who is housed and fed and then called upon to make speeches at major events and tell everyone how generous the family is.” I nodded.

“Sometimes I calculate the friendship budget, and I wonder if living in the city is worth it.”

Friendship budget?” I broke off a small piece of my flaky, sinful pain au chocolat that I knew I shouldn’t be eating, but was devouring recklessly.

“Well, yes, sometimes I calculate the obligatory outflow, and it adds up to something else we’d rather be doing.” She skewered a blueberry with her fork.

“Wait. These are all new and fabulous terms.” I looked at Penny with new respect.

“The terms may be new, but you do them, too, I can assure you. I mean, let’s take weddings, bar mitzvahs, Sweet 16s: The gifts now run $250 to $1,000 a couple depending how close you are. Then there are the fundraisers. Friends get honored, and you need to buy one or two tickets. The tables now are all $10,000 to $50,000 a pop. If your best girlfriend is getting honored you need to do the $1,000 ticket, minimum for two, then they hit you up for the journal ad. That’s $2,500 to $10,000. You can’t do a quarter page when everyone else is doing a full gold page for your bestie. Then you have to buy the dress, the shoes, the bag. Even if it’s a sample sale purchase, it’s going to run you $1,600: $600 for the bargain dress, $400 for the shoes and $600 for the bag. O.K., maybe you can recycle a day bag—so subtract $600. Men have it easier—no one is looking at your dark suit!” she complained.

“Unless it has shoulder pads from the 80s,” I offered.

“Right. Should I keep going?”

“Yes, I find your social Socratic thinking fascinating.”

‘You have to throw your 3- or 6-year-old a birthday party and invite all the little princes and princesses. You need to also buy all the little brats a gift card for $25 to $100 for their parties. I mean, really! I’m in the social poorhouse before my husband even gets his lesser bonus than last year, and that’s why I have a bag from three years ago!’—PR Penny

“Then, your good friend is turning 40 or 50. They might have a destination party in Miami, Vegas or the South of France. The generous hosts pay for the room and meals, but only the closest posse get to go on the private plane—and they usually are super-rich anyway because as we all know, the rich love hanging with the rich, unless they want someone to blow smoke up their bums, which they sometimes do. The choice is do you stay or go and look like a loser and miss all the fun. The airfare is $500 to $8,000 depending on where, when and whether you go steerage or business. Then they want $500 to $1,000 for the group gift!” she lamented.

I summoned the waiter. “She’ll have a refill,” I insisted. This was too good to stop.

“Then you get invited to their parties and dinners, where they have major staff…all off the Milan runway, and you want to reciprocate, but your rented apartment—which no one has been to except your college roommate—is too small, so you offer a restaurant, and they always pick the latest and the hottest venue. The bill is always over $1,000 with wine, and you have to pay it.

“You have to throw your 3- or 6-year-old a birthday party and invite all the little princes and princesses, and they want a theme and gifts. You need to also buy all the little brats a gift card for $25 to $100 for their parties. You have 10 parties—that’s another $1,000. I mean, really! I’m in the social poorhouse before my husband even gets his lesser bonus than last year, and that’s why I have a bag from three years ago!” She put on her Canal Street designer glasses to hide, I imagined, her shame.

“So what are your choices, Penny?”

“I can move to the country where I’ll die of boredom or live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while I pretend to keep up, and die in the poorhouse.”

“Any other thoughts?”

“Did you ever see that movie Indecent Proposal, where Robert Redford offers Demi Moore’s husband $1 million if he’ll let him have a one-night stand with her?”

I looked at her somewhat askance.

“Well, if you know anyone…” She sighed and frowned with a seriousness akin to that of a cardiologist examining a problematic X-ray.

********************

was al fresco lunching in the September sunshine with Don Payment, a member of the international playboy posse at the Jue Lan Club, where we had Beijing chicken with red bean sauce, along with goblets of rosé.

“This is what’s best about New York, all these hidden gardens. I feel like I’m in L.A. or Miami,” he said, a yellow-and-blue silk polka-dot pouchette playing off his golden forelock.

“Speaking of Miami, have you seen the Globetrots?” I asked of a social, jet-setting South Beach couple.

“Yes,” he sniffed. “I saw them in London, Paris and Milan.”

“Well, I saw them in the South of France and Sicily.”

“I bet you paid for lunch,” he said matter-of-factly.

“How did you know?”

“They never pay for anything. He never seems to have his wallet, and she always asks for cash.”

“They joined me for lunch at the Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina, and come to think of it, you’re right. They didn’t offer. They just ordered and got up and thanked me after dessert.”

“See?”

“Do they have any money?” I asked.

“Her mother has all the money, but she’s still kicking, and while she’s wildly rich, the Globetrots are on a very tight allowance from what I hear.”

“Come to think of it, they were staying at the hotel, but they asked me how much our rooms were, which I thought was odd,” I added.

“Mother is picking up the tab. and they have no idea how much things cost.”

“Why do people put up with it?”

“Because the Globetrots are fun, and we all need a little entertainment, although the last time we had dinner I called Monsieur Globetrot and told him not to forget his wallet.”

“So did he bring it?”

“Yes, but grudgingly—and Madame Globetrot asked me to leave a cash tip!”

“Amazing. She let me pay for lunch in Antibes last summer even though it was five of them and one of me, and then she took some of the cash I’d left on the table for her ‘hairdresser appointment,’ saying she hadn’t had time to change any money.”

“Trust me, her mother’s worth a billion.” He raised a waxed, metrosexual eyebrow.

********************

Dana and I were attending a cocktail party before I went off to the fabulous Gaggenau dinner at ArtBeam, a virtual recreation of the Black Forest, with Daniel Humm, the insanely talented chef, cooking divine dishes for lucky New Yorkers who’d made the guest list.

“Dana, I absolutely love that dress,” I said as I helped zip her into a beautiful designer silk frock.

“You’ll love it even more when you know I got it on sale, 70 percent off,” she replied proudly.

“Well, it’s smashing, and not many people can carry off a size zero.”

“Thanks, darling. And I recycled the bag and shoes.”

“You are the best, and no one would ever know you didn’t spend thousands,” I marveled.

“Well, you know you can’t wear the same thing to every event. A girl has got to mix it up. So I went shopping…in my closet!”

“I’ve always said that I need to wear expensive custom clothes to hide my inexpensive body, but you can wear inexpensive clothes since you have an expensive mannequin’s body.”

“Well, you know, the Geier women are also savers,” Dana responded. “I’d rather have money in the bank then wear it on my back. You know what Sophie Tucker once said?”

“What?”

“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and…”

“And?”

“…Rich is better.” And with that, she applied her lipstick and sashayed out the door, looking like a million dollars. 

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